A victory that defeats all common sense

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Thank goodness it is over: the protracted parliamentary battle over hunting with dogs, that is. But yesterday's resolution is just as unsatisfactory as the process that led up to it. The certainty is that hunting will be banned from February. An amendment that would have provided for a one-year delay and (just) preserved a spirit of consensus between the two Houses of Parliament was rejected by the Lords.

Thank goodness it is over: the protracted parliamentary battle over hunting with dogs, that is. But yesterday's resolution is just as unsatisfactory as the process that led up to it. The certainty is that hunting will be banned from February. An amendment that would have provided for a one-year delay and (just) preserved a spirit of consensus between the two Houses of Parliament was rejected by the Lords.

The only people who will be happy are the diehard proponents of the ban: they wanted an immediate ban on a practice they, along with animal rights groups, consider barbaric. This is what they have got, for better or worse. There is scant consolation for anyone else.

The Government now faces a general election campaign in which hunting risks becoming a dominating issue, complete with ugly mass demonstrations of the sort the Countryside Alliance has mounted outside Parliament in recent months.

The Countryside Alliance and its multifarious supporters will be incandescent that a way of life and part of the fabric of this country is being legislated out of existence. They will ask, with some justification, why an issue that has so little resonance for the majority of voters has had so much precious parliamentary time lavished upon it. It is quite possible that some will choose open defiance, leaving the police and local councils with the sensitive question of enforcing a law that has fierce local opposition - before an election.

The Lords will be unhappy that another law has been enacted against their strong opposition. In short, all the divisions in this country that democracy is supposed to reconcile - between town and country, Commons and Lords, rulers and ruled - will be reopened.

And for much of the mess, the Prime Minister has only himself to blame. It was he who promised backbenchers this illiberal ban and he who then sowed confusion by trying to fudge an issue that could not be fudged. Had he supported the idea of licensing sooner, and argued for it enthusiastically, this less contentious solution might have won the day.

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